No time for exercise? Here’s how to fit fitness into your life (and over 50 is not too late to start)

Finding time is a major reason not to exercise, but it can be easily built into your day, says fitness expert Chris Zaremba. He should know: he was obese at 50 and is now a champion fitness model

I sometimes hear people say that lives are busy these days, and they really have no time for fitness. It’s always something that makes me react, because if I hadn’t started to make time for fitness  when I turned 50, I don’t think I’d be here now to make time for anything at all. At least, that’s the view of my doc.

You do have to schedule some time to have proper fitness activities – you can’t attend a 45-minute exercise class without allocating three-quarters of an hour of your day to it, I have found.

When time is short, something has to give – and, of course, it’s the optional activities that are the ones most likely to go.

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Fitness activities do not have to involve specific exercises; anything that is self-propelled activity is a fitness activity

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Eating and sleeping are non-optional, as is work for most people. Optional items include watching TV, computer and internet stuff, reading, music, days out, socialising with friends and fitness activities.

The average UK person spends 4.25 hours per day watching TV or non-work activity on PC or internet: classic activities working against the improvement of fitness.

I spent three decades of my life putting fitness activities at the bottom of my activity list – and had the 42-inch waist size to prove it at age 50.  Now, fitness is a much higher priority.

Of course, there are many days when I am socialising and fitness comes second; but now I wouldn’t miss a gym workout or a 5k run in exchange for PC or TV time.

But what if you really cannot find time for fitness in your schedule? I’m as time-crunched as any, and I have devised some fitness ideas that take no time at all – or indeed, even less than zero; fitness activities that generate time rather than consuming it. I call all these ideas ‘Zero-Time Fitness’.

Fitness activities do not have to involve specific exercises; anything that is self-propelled activity is a fitness activity in my book. So, if you are walking, walk more quickly.

If you walk 20 per cent more quickly than usual, most people will burn at least 30 per cent more calories per minute, get an aerobic workout, probably tap into more fat reserves as your fuel, help strengthen your leg and core muscles – and get to where you are going earlier so you’ve more time to do whatever it is you’re going there to do. Where’s the downside in any of that?

I now walk briskly whenever I am walking. I used to drive to our local railway station daily as part of my journey to work, as it took five minutes as opposed to the 15-minute walk.

Walk don’t drive

But allow an extra five minutes for traffic, and another five to find a space and pay for parking – and it breaks even.  In the winter, throw in an extra five minutes of screen-scraping too: infinitely less pleasant than warming up in a heavy coat on a brisk walk.

So I save petrol, car parking costs, wear and tear on the car, I get some good cardio exercise, and burn around 1500 extra calories per week. At the risk of being repetitive, any downside in there? Apart from Chris Evans losing a listener for a few minutes!

I also apply the Zero-Time Fitness approach to stairs – which I always climb two at a time whenever I can.  It’s a good workout for the quads and hip flexor muscles, of course, it burns more calories per minute, and you get there quicker.

I’m also a big fan of walking up escalators and running down them. I’m always stunned by people standing and riding on a downwards escalator – why exactly are they doing that?  I can’t do upwards escalators two treads at a time, but they can be walked up quickly.

And I’ve a particular trick for upwards escalators; by only placing the forefoot on each tread, this also gives the calves a good workout too by extending at the ankle on each up-step. As well as the Zero-Time Fitness exercise you could be getting on escalators, if there’s a train you are heading for either at the top or bottom – well, you might just get an earlier one by escalating more quickly.

Fitness and friendship

One final way to get more results from a set amount of time, is to do your exercise activities with friends that you would socialise with anyway.

A fast walk, or jog with a friend can double up as into social time as well as fitness time. It’s a great bit of multi-tasking – you get an hour’s chat with your friend, plus an hour of exercise, for a net input of one hour of your time.

How’s that for finding time for exercise? Even a gym resistance workout can operate this way – you are meant to be resting for a minute between sets, so this rest time can be the time the other person does their set.

The workout time does get extended a little, and you do need to be careful that the jaw muscle isn’t the one that’s worked the most, but you can get an hour’s workout for you, and an hour’s workout for your friend, and an hour of time together – all in on elapsed hour. Where are the Time Bandits when you need them?

Yes, I remain time-crunched but by employing these Zero-Time Fitness activities whenever I can, I’m a whole lot fitter and healthier despite that bloomin’ clock!

Next week: the shortest, easiest fat-loss plan (or eat less, exercise more).

Chris Zaremba of Fitness over Fifty is a fitness consultant and personal trainer specialising in the over-50s. He follows his own advice and is the current World Champion Muscle Model and Fitness Model for his age group. You can contact him at [email protected]